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News in Brief

Arkansas: Two guards were placed on paid leave after they shot and killed prisoner Christopher Wilson during an April 7, 2016 escape attempt from the Varner Unit of the Arkansas Department of Correction. According to DOC spokesperson Solomon Graves, “Officers gave [Wilson] a demand to cease his activity, and he failed to comply.” The last guard-involved fatal shooting of an Arkansas prisoner was in 1991, and the last death that occurred during an escape was in 2013, when a prisoner became stuck in a fence and died of his injuries. That incident also happened at the Varner Unit.

Australia: On April 9, 2016, police captured two men who had escaped from the medium-security Fulham Correctional Centre, which is operated by the GEO Group. As a sanction for allowing the escape, the private prison contractor was subject to a $220,000 fine and at risk of losing its contract. “The private operator will also provide me with a report into this matter and how this occurred,” said Corrections Commissioner Jan Shuard. “There are serious ramifications within the contract for an escape.” GEO is conducting an internal investigation into the security breach.

Australia: Up to 50 Australian guards with riot shields attacked a group of around 10 New Zealanders at Australia’s privately-operated immigrant detention compound on Christmas Island, according to an April 27, 2016 report by Radio New Zealand. In a separate incident at the Maribyrnong Immigration Detention Centre in Victoria, which, like Christmas Island, is run by private prison operator Serco, a prisoner claimed he was beaten by a guard who refused to allow him to use a restroom. Recent statistics show that New Zealanders make up the largest ethnic group being held in Australian immigration detention facilities.

Bolivia: Officials at Palmasola, Bolivia’s largest jail, faced embarrassment and could offer no explanation when it was reported on April 14, 2016 that prisoner Marco Antonio Ramirez had murdered his visiting ex-wife inside the facility. Ramirez, a former engineer, somehow buried Kenia Hidalgo Cespedes’ body beneath the concrete floor of his cell, where it remained hidden for 18 months. Although Ramirez was serving 30 years for killing his girlfriend, another woman agreed to marry him in a ceremony that was conducted in his cell, unbeknownst to her on the secret grave of his ex-wife. Cespedes’ brother, Rolando Cespedes, questioned prison officials’ competency, saying, “How is it possible for someone to enter a prison and not leave without anyone noticing? Someone has to be held responsible here.”

California: On March 14, 2016, 41-year-old Tung Nguyen became the latest person charged in connection with the dramatic escape of three prisoners from the Orange County Men’s Central Jail. Prisoners Hossein Nayeri, Bac Duong and Jonathan Tieu absconded from the facility in January 2016. [See: PLN, May 2016, p.63]. Nguyen faces a felony count of accessory after the fact for supplying the escapees with beer and cash on the day after the jailbreak. He has pleaded not guilty; if convicted, he faces up to three years in prison.

Colorado: Claude Lee Wilkerson was sentenced to death in Texas in 1979 after he confessed to murdering three witnesses to a jewelry store robbery. In 1983, his convictions were thrown out because police had interrogated him in the absence of his attorney. Now Wilkerson faces new charges after police rescued a woman whom Wilkerson had chained to a bed at his home and raped for months. The woman, who was homeless, begged deputies to arrest her when they arrived to conduct a welfare check; she described her horrific experience after she was taken to the police station. Wilkerson was charged on March 4, 2016 with 10 counts, including sexual assault, first-degree kidnapping and false imprisonment.

Colorado: On New Year’s Day 2012, Tom Fallis and his wife, Ashley Fallis, had a heated argument in their Greeley, Colorado home that ended with Ashley dead of a gunshot wound. Authorities initially ruled her death a suicide, but new evidence surfaced in 2014 that suggested her husband, a former Weld County sheriff’s deputy, had killed her. Tom Fallis was subsequently charged with her murder, and on April 1, 2016 a jury deliberated for less than four hours before finding him not guilty. Ashley’s family, who attended the court proceedings, fled the courtroom looking “upset and angry,” according to ABC News.

Connecticut: A group of prisoners at the Brooklyn Correctional Institution raised $2,000 from commissary account donations to support the Connecticut Coalition against Domestic Violence. On April 8, 2016, members of a prison program called Brooklyn Cares presented the funds for the specific purpose of updating and distributing so-called “best practices” cards for police officers to consult when investigating domestic violence cases. Brooklyn Cares has been donating to Connecticut charities for two decades, contributing a total of around $161,000. “To me, it’s a form of restorative justice, because it’s their money. They have to work for it,” said Linda Trahan, a correctional counselor who helps run the program.

District of Columbia: Brett Barrientos, an employee at the federal Bureau of Prisons’ headquarters in Washington, D.C., pleaded guilty to a single charge of theft of government property on April 5, 2016 and was placed on administrative leave. According to court records, Barrientos, a building management specialist, asked contractors to move more than a dozen pieces of BOP property, including electronics, tools and furniture, to a barn and garage on his personal property in Virginia. Barrientos defended his actions by saying the items were “surplus and trash” that he had eventually returned to the BOP. According to prosecutors, the items Barrientos diverted for his personal use were valued at approximately $22,000.

Florida: On April 4, 2016, a riot involving several prisoners broke out at the Columbia Correctional Institution during which a guard was attacked and stabbed, and several other guards received minor injuries. The guard who was assaulted, Shane Biancaniello, was cut in the head and neck with a homemade weapon and airlifted to Shands Hospital in Gainesville, but was expected to fully recover. Corrections Secretary Julie Jones had acknowledged for months that Florida prisons were critically understaffed, but in March 2016 lawmakers rejected her pleas for funds to fill 734 new guard positions.

Georgia: Brunswick’s top public defender was fired in mid-April 2016, and his firing was upheld on May 17, 2016 by the Georgia Public Defender Council despite Kevin Gough’s insistence that his termination was in retaliation for his support of an NAACP claim that Brunswick’s prosecution and judicial systems were corrupt. The Public Defender Council affirmed Gough’s termination on the grounds that he had improperly represented indigent defendants and mistreated junior-level defense attorneys. Gough began a hunger strike on May 9, 2016 in response to his firing, saying in an earlier press conference that if the issues raised by the Brunswick chapter of the NAACP were not addressed, he would remain on a hunger strike “until those issues are resolved.”

Georgia: Reginald Perkins, 35, incarcerated at the Autry State Prison, pleaded guilty on April 11, 2016 to one count of money laundering for his role in a cell phone fraud scheme that netted an estimated $1 million in illegal proceeds. According to federal authorities, the scheme was wide-ranging and carried out through cell phones that had been smuggled to prisoners by prison staff. Perkins is one of 75 prisoners, guards and outsiders who have been indicted since 2015 for fraudulent activities involving contraband cell phones. “This case re-emphasizes the widespread and corrosive effects that cell phones have in prisons,” said U.S. Attorney John Horn. “A prison is the last place where criminal activity like this should be occurring, and the fact that the amount of money laundered through this inmate’s conduct totals $1 million is mind-boggling.”

India: The New Indian Express reported on March 3, 2016 that the Central Jail in Poojappura plans to open the country’s first-ever e-library in a correctional facility. The literacy program will provide prisoners with Amazon Kindle e-readers and bar-coded ID cards so they can access digital books. According to jail officials, the plan is to digitize over 14,000 books currently available in the prison library for e-distribution without Internet connectivity. The Poojappura Central Jail houses around 1,300 prisoners, and about 350 have expressed interest in the e-reading program.

Indiana: Kosciusko County Sheriff Aaron Rovenstine was indicted on February 29, 2016 on 10 felony counts that include bribery, intimidation and official misconduct. Prosecutors claim the sheriff conspired with theology professor Mark H. Soto and ex-Aryan Brotherhood member Kevin Lee Bronson to carry out a twisted bribery plot to promote Bronson’s life story as a Hollywood film. Rovenstine is accused of giving Bronson special privileges while he was jailed in Kosciusko County that allowed Bronson and Soto to intimidate and extort potential donors to the movie project. In mid-July 2016, special prosecutors asked a judge to move Rovenstine’s trial to another county because most of the jury pool in Kosciusko County had voted for him when he ran for sheriff.

Michigan: On March 28, 2016, a couple appeared in court to waive their right to a preliminary hearing on charges related to their involvement in a contraband smuggling scheme at the Saginaw Correctional Facility. Frederick D. Hamilton and Katrina L. McGowan were charged after they developed a plot to smuggle a cell phone and marijuana to McGowan’s incarcerated brother. According to prosecutors, McGowan was approached by her brother and persuaded to enlist Hamilton’s help as a delivery driver for a company that provided fruit to the facility. Prison officials intercepted the contraband during one of Hamilton’s regular deliveries. McGowan and Hamilton each face two felonies; both were freed on $10,000 personal recognizance bonds and banned from the prison.

Michigan: Last year, Trinity Services Group took over food service operations at the Kinross Correctional Facility after Michigan ended its statewide contract with troubled prison food vendor Aramark. [See: PLN, Dec. 2015, p.1]. About 1,000 prisoners in the Upper Peninsula facility staged a silent protest against the quality of food provided by Trinity, by leaving the prison yard early on March 20, 2016 and refusing meals the next day. “This is the first issue that I’ve seen related to food in months,” stated Michigan DOC spokesman Chris Gautz. Anita Lloyd with the Michigan Corrections Organization, a prison guards’ union, expressed concern at the scope of the protest. “It’s hard to get 1,000 people to agree on anything,” she said, adding, “We’re glad it was peaceful this time.”

Myanmar: On April 7, 2016, sixty-nine student “prisoners of conscience” and their supporters were freed from the Thayawady Prison, along with 44 other political activists. Good behavior also earned 2,178 Myanmar prisoners their freedom as part of an annual mass release. The pardons came one day after a goal to grant presidential clemency for political prisoners was announced by State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. “Today’s release of most of the student protesters is a huge step forward for human rights in Burma [Myanmar], and we are delighted that these men and women will walk free,” Amnesty International researcher Laura Haigh said in a statement.

Nebraska: PLN previously reported on prisoner Stephen Cavanaugh’s 2014 lawsuit in which he sought recognition of his religious faith – the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (also known as “Pastafarianism”) – by authorities with the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services. [See: PLN, Nov. 2015, p.63]. On April 12, 2016, U.S. District Court Judge John Gerrard dismissed Cavanaugh’s complaint. “The Court finds that FSMism is not a ‘religion’ within the meaning of the relevant federal statutes and constitutional jurisprudence,” Gerrard wrote in his 16-page opinion. The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster was founded in 2005 as a religious parody that opposes the teaching of intelligent design and creationism.

Nebraska: On May 11, 2016, prisoner Nikko Jenkins, who killed four people in 2013, was found competent to take part in his death penalty sentencing hearing. State psychiatrists testified that Jenkins was faking his mental illness despite repeated in-custody self-mutilations that included slicing his penis to resemble a serpent, carving the word “Satan” across his face and swallowing a set of keys; he also tried to hang himself. Jenkins’ self-injuries resulted in sharp criticism directed at Nebraska Department of Correctional Services director Scott R. Frakes due to prison officials’ inability to keep Jenkins safe while he awaits sentencing.

New Jersey: U.S. District Court Judge Peter G. Sheridan sentenced Kamal J. James, 34, and Crystal G. Hawkins, 39, to 96 and 48 months in prison, respectively, on April 15, 2016 for 16 counts of making false claims and three counts of mail fraud. The couple will also serve three years of supervised release and must pay $570,897 in restitution for their roles in a fraudulent tax refund scheme that targeted current and former prisoners. Sheridan pronounced the sentence after James and Hawkins were convicted on all counts at the close of a weeklong trial last year. They operated the scheme under the umbrella of a tax preparation business called Release Refunds.

New Mexico: Charges against a contract food worker at a CCA-operated federal prison in Estancia were dropped on April 7, 2016 after prosecutors could not locate the victim. Wendy Moore, 41, had faced 24 counts of criminal sexual penetration and three counts of attempted criminal sexual penetration of a prisoner. In addition to the missing victim, who had been released but faced possible deportation, prosecutors faulted a vague criminal complaint for their inability to move forward with the case against Moore. “Facility staff have cooperated fully with the Estancia Police Department’s investigation, and we support full prosecution under the law for any confirmed criminal acts,” said CCA spokesman Jonathan Burns.

New York: Fraudulent sick leave and workers’ compensation claims netted a Five Points Correctional Facility guard a potential prison sentence following his arrest on April 26, 2016 for felony grand larceny and fraud. Giddell Feliciano, 37, is accused of stealing $38,000 in ineligible benefits by falsifying medical records; he is also accused of secretly moving to another state to work at a county jail despite his claims of disability. “This corrections officer corruptly took advantage of benefits and protections meant for honest state employees,” said Inspector General Catherine Leahy Scott. “This alleged crime was nothing more than an elaborate scheme to help fund his life in a new state and a search for a new career.”

New York: The debate team at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point was no match for a group of prisoners from the Eastern New York Correctional Facility during a debate competition held on April 15, 2016. The prisoners were students in the Bard Prison Initiative, which provides demanding college coursework. The prisoners’ victory was based on their argument against a resolution that American corporations should not have constitutional rights; the team of prisoners argued that they should. “The success of this team reveals the potential and the capacity of incarcerated people,” said Max Kenner, founder of the Bard program, and shows “how much more has to be done to rethink college admissions, access and opportunity in prison and otherwise.”

New Zealand: Corrections Minister Judith Collins said five guards had been placed on special leave after they carried on a Facebook conversation about a prisoner. She claimed the guards had violated the prisoner’s privacy and let the Corrections Department down by breaching the Corrections Code of Conduct. Mt. Eden Corrections Facility director Dennis Goodin learned of the Facebook conversation on April 8, 2016 and immediately launched an investigation. Two of the guards are employed by private prison operator Serco at the Mt. Eden prison; the other three work at Paremoremo, also known as Auckland Prison.

Nigeria: In a statement, Peter Ezenwa Ekpendu, Comptroller General of the Nigerian Prisons Service, said a member of the House of Representatives, Joan Marakpor, lied when she claimed she was assaulted by a prison staff member. On April 21, 2016, the House of Representatives called on Ekpendu to testify before committees on Interior and Police Affairs to discuss the incident. Ekpendu defended his employee, calling him a “peace loving and law abiding citizen of Nigeria.” An investigation into Marakpor’s allegations continues.

North Carolina: James Meyers, Jr. was pulled over by Concord police officers for a broken brake light in March 2016 while on his way to drop his daughter off at school. He soon found himself handcuffed and standing before a magistrate to face charges on an outstanding warrant for failure to return a VHS cassette tape he had rented in 2001 from a local video rental store that had been closed for over a decade. Meyers posted to YouTube and Facebook about his experience and was soon contacted by Tom Green, the star of the unreturned movie, “Freddy Got Fingered.” Green reached out to Meyers via Twitter, saying, “I just saw this and I am struggling to believe it is real.” It was in fact very real – Meyers had his day in court on April 27, 2016, and was “elated, ecstatic” and “very relieved” when prosecutors dropped the charges.

North Carolina: A hunter walking in the woods in Bertie County made a gruesome discovery on April 7, 2016 when he found the decapitated body of an escaped prisoner 15 miles from the Chowan County Detention Center. Authorities identified the headless, naked body as Kelvin Singleton, 26, who had fled the facility nearly two weeks earlier by using a shank crafted from a toothbrush to force a guard to release him. Chowan County Sheriff Dwayne Goodwin told the Daily News that his department had been conducting interviews, but the beheading remained a mystery. “We have interviewed a ton of people,” Goodwin said. “We don’t have a motive or anything at this point – no suspect, no motive.” Singleton’s head has not been found.

North Carolina: On March 2, 2016, Howard Dudley threw his prison uniform on the floor and walked over it as he exited the Lenoir County Jail – a free man for the first time in nearly 2½ decades. Dudley, 59, was released after Judge W. Douglas Parsons threw out his 1992 conviction for an alleged sexual assault against his then-9-year-old daughter. Dudley’s daughter, Amy Moore, now an adult, recanted testimony that her father had abused her as a child. Dudley had turned down a plea deal in 1992 that would have allowed him to remain free but required him to admit wrongdoing. He told the judge, “I want my name cleared. These type [sic] of charges are very bad charges. I didn’t commit any of these acts. I need healing, and so does Amy.”

Ohio: Convicted murderer John Modie was discovered missing from his cell on March 27, 2016 during a regular 11:00pm prisoner count at the Hocking Unit of the Southeastern Correctional Complex in Nelsonville. The intense manhunt that ensued prompted the closure of the nearby Hocking College campus until Modie was found close to midnight the next day at an abandoned gas station. He was arrested “without incident” by officers with the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction and Ohio State Highway Patrol’s special response team. Modie was transferred to the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility pending an investigation into his escape.

Ohio: According to a March 10, 2016 announcement by the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office, the county jail will begin selling “cold case cards” – decks of playing cards with the photos of homicide victims. The Sheriff’s Office partnered with a group called “U Can Speak for Me,” which was founded by Hope Dudley, the mother of a murdered child. Her son Daniel Dudley’s picture is featured as the five of hearts in the deck. By distributing the cards, law enforcement officials hope to gain new information on unsolved murders.

Oklahoma: Corrections Corporation of America operates the Cimarron Correctional Facility in Cushing, and PLN has reported numerous times on incidents at that troubled prison. [See, e.g.: PLN, July 2016, p.63; Feb. 2016, p.63]. Most recently, a Tulsa woman made headlines for trying to smuggle marijuana into the facility. Crystal Ann Mack, 29, was arraigned on April 11, 2016 on a felony charge and held on $2,500 bail. She faces up to five years in prison and a fine of $1,000 if convicted.

Pennsylvania: Prisoner Codie Dotterer was being moved to a solitary confinement cell at the Beaver County Jail when he grabbed and fired a guard’s Taser. The January 7, 2016 incident left four guards with injuries from various levels of electric shock. Two were shocked by wires from the electric probes, which struck and injured a third guard. The fourth jailer was shocked because he was holding Dotterer’s feet at the time the Taser discharged. Dotterer now faces charges of aggravated assault, among other counts. At the time of the incident he was being taken to solitary after a cell inspection found two pills inside his cell – which were later confirmed to be Tylenol.

Pennsylvania: A federal prison guard at USP Lewisburg filed a lawsuit on December 31, 2015 alleging negligence on the part of the U.S. Department of Justice for releasing his personal information to a prisoner through an unredacted response to a public records request. Attorneys for Randall Spade said the guard was alerted to the security breach when a prisoner asked about Spade’s hometown and began reciting his Social Security number. This was not the first incident involving a breach of prison employees’ personal information. In August 2015, a mailroom inspection diverted documents – obtained by a private citizen’s public records request and destined for a prisoner – that contained the unredacted personal information of employees at two Illinois prisons.

Russia: On March 8, 2016, the Moscow Times cited a Council of Europe (COE) report that found Russia now leads 47 European countries in both the number of people incarcerated and the occurrence of prisoner deaths. According to the report, in 2014 Russia’s prison system incarcerated 467 people per 100,000 citizens – a total of 671,000 prisoners. The COE report also tallied 4,200 deaths in Russian prisons in 2013, including 461 that were attributed to suicide. The mortality rate for those imprisoned in Russia far exceeds that of major European countries – 2.8 deaths per 1,000 prisoners is average for most countries, while Russian prisoners die at a rate closer to 6 per 1,000 prisoners.

South Carolina: According to a March 14, 2016 press release issued by the Georgetown County Sheriff’s Office, an employee of the Georgetown County Facility Services Division was arrested for providing contraband to a prisoner, for allowing the prisoner to use his cell phone. John Paul Lackey, 45, surrendered to authorities and was transported to the Georgetown County Detention Center to await a bond hearing. He stands accused of allowing prisoner William Dean Burden to make cell phone calls while working on a job assignment at the Facility Services Division.

Texas: A March 22, 2016 post on the Granite Shoals Police Department’s Facebook page stated, “If you have recently purchased meth or heroin in Central Texas, please take it to the local police or sheriff department so it can be screened with a special device. DO NOT use it until it has been properly checked for possible Ebola contamination!” Although most people recognized the post was a hoax, one gullible drug user, Chasity Hopson, showed up at the police station to have her meth tested. Granite Shoals police later released a picture of Hopson with a caption stating she was “the winner of the Facebook post challenge.” Social media reaction to the drug bust was mixed; some critics claimed the fake warning constituted police entrapment, while others found the post, and Hopson’s arrest, comical.

Texas: Indalecio and Alvara Garay filed a federal lawsuit on March 4, 2016 that alleged their son, Nestor Garay, died due to the negligence of the GEO Group, the nation’s second-largest for-profit prison company, and medical contractor Correct Care Solutions (CCS). GEO and CCS declined to comment on the pending litigation, which states that Nestor suffered a stroke in June 2014 while imprisoned at the Big Spring Correctional Center and accuses CCS staff of failing to evaluate him in time to provide effective treatment. He died shackled to a bed at Midland Memorial Hospital two days later. Nestor’s death was the subject of an investigation by The Nation magazine that examined dozens of other deaths related to cost-cutting measures at privately-operated federal prisons.

Texas: A former Gatesville prison guard was charged with having sexual relations with a prisoner on April 1, 2016. Emma Katlien Flora, 29, had worked at the facility since 2014. She was arrested in Bexar County, then transferred to the Coryell County Jail where she was held on $50,000 bond. According to a news report, Flora quit while she was under investigation.

United Kingdom: Thomas Samuel Rodgers, 34, returned to HMP Magilligan after a day furlough and successfully passed a visual strip search, but was apprehended smuggling up to £8,000 worth of Fentanyl patches, cannabis resin, cannabis and other unidentified drugs when a drug-sniffing dog alerted on him. Rodgers was placed in a dry cell, also known in the UK as a “sterile cell,” where he eventually passed the contraband. His defense solicitor told the court that Rodgers was “under pressure from others whom he owed money to and who told him that if he did not do it when he returned to the prison he would receive a beating inside.” Despite his argument that he had smuggled the drugs under threat, Rodgers was sentenced to an additional prison term of three years on April 27, 2016.

United States: From New York to Oregon, prison vegetable farming programs are growing in both popularity and acceptance by prison officials for the many benefits they provide, in addition to being a cost-effective food source. The gardens are seen as ways to supplement substandard prison meals with fresh, nutritious vegetables that are healthier for prisoners and particularly beneficial to those with medical conditions such as diabetes and hypertension. Hilda Krus, director of the greenhouse program at New York City’s Rikers Island jail complex, noted that gardening is therapeutic and rehabilitative. According to a March 24, 2016 article published in Yes Magazine, Krus said tending to plants allows prisoners to “practice compassion in an otherwise often harsh environment.”

Washington: Tacoma attorney William Stoddard, Jr. pleaded not guilty on April 27, 2016 to charges of introducing contraband, unlawfully delivering a controlled substance and conspiracy to deliver a controlled substance. Stoddard, 68, was suspended from visiting the Pierce County Jail after smuggling hash oil in his rectum to give to a prisoner with whom he had a sexual relationship. Prosecutors said Stoddard visited the male prisoner 19 times over the course of a year. “It appears the suspects were ‘keistering’ the drugs to get them into the jail and then possibly sharing them with other inmates,” said Pierce County Detective Ed Troyer. Stoddard’s bail was set at $7,500; he unsuccessfully ran for the office of Pierce County prosecutor in 1990.

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